One weekday afternoon in October a professional storyteller named Dan was preparing for an after-school program at a neighborhood recreational center when a group of noisy ten-year-olds from a nearby Catholic school walked in. The kids were munching potato chips, blowing gum, and teasing each other, and were obviously not in a quiet or listening mood—so Dan got their attention by lighting a candle, turning off the lights, and telling them ghost stories in honor of Halloween, which was just a few days away. Before long the young people were hooked and listening carefully to every word. Dan’s final story was of the kind that counselors tell at summer camps after sunset around the campfire, with his voice growing softer and softer, until the climatic moment when the ghost grabs the victim while shouting “Boo!” or “I’ve gotcha!” All the kids, of course, screamed and grabbed onto each other, and when it was time to leave, they were all talking excitedly about their scary experience, about how they knew what was coming at the end of the story, and how they weren’t really frightened but were only pretending.
Dan noticed one girl standing apart and holding something she was wearing around her neck. He asked her if she liked the stories, and she said, “Yes, very much—but I didn’t jump like everyone else when you told the last one.” “Why not?” Dan inquired, and she showed him the religious medal she was holding, and explained, “Because when I knew it was going to get scary, I held the Blessed Virgin Mary. You should get one of these medals too.” Dan responded, “No, I don’t think so; I’m Jewish.” “That’s okay,” said the girl; “get a Jewish one.” Dan later wrote, “I have often remembered the girl’s good counsel. When you know something scary is coming, you must find and hold onto your own source of reassurance and wisdom. You must have a steady beacon to guide you through perilous waters” (William J. Bausch, Once Upon A Gospel, p. 155). Our Lady fills this role in a wonderful way. Whether someone is Catholic, Jewish, or anything else, Mary wants to be our Mother, obtaining for us blessings, protection, and Divine favor— and choosing to let her do this is one of the wisest decisions we’ll ever make.
Each year on January 1, the Church specially honors Our Lady as a way of inviting us to set the proper tone for the coming year. Despite many privations and challenges, Mary was able to live in a spirit of inner peace and security because of her intimate union with Jesus, her spirit of humility and trust, and her practice, as the Gospel of Luke (2:16-21) states, of remembering and reflecting on all the events of life that demonstrated God’s loving care for her and her family. St. Paul (Gal 4:4-7) reminds us that we are not slaves, but children of God and heirs to His Kingdom—and the security and purpose that comes from knowing our true identity helps fulfill the Lord’s promise (Nm 6:22-27) to bless us. As Mary demonstrates, the more we have faith, the less we have to fear; the more we trust, the more we can look forward to the fulfillment of God’s plan.
Our Lord loves His Mother more than we can comprehend, and it is impossible for Him to refuse one of her requests. In His love for her, Jesus has in effect appointed Our Lady as Heaven’s royal treasurer, through whom all graces and blessings are bestowed. That’s why it’s the height of spiritual wisdom to develop a strong devotion to Mary and to seek her aid and intercession in all our needs. Some other Christians, especially the Orthodox, also honor the Virgin Mary, but it’s the Catholic Church in particular that’s known for emphasizing her holiness and importance. Our Lady’s willingness to know and help each of us in a personal way is part of our glorious heritage as Catholics, and this great and immensely valuable gift should not be ignored, belittled, or wasted.
Later this year we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearance to three shepherd children at Fatima in Portugal, a series of Church-approved apparitions, messages, and prophecies perhaps more relevant now than ever before. Mary continues to beg us, as she did at Fatima, to pray for world peace, to offer sacrifices for the conversion of sinners, and to open our hearts to the fullness of God’s grace; this “Peace Plan from Heaven,” as it’s called, is especially important in these increasingly dangerous and unsettled times. As our Heavenly Mother, Mary yearns to cover each one of us with her mantle of protection, shielding us from spiritual harm and helping us come ever closer to her Son. However, she, like Jesus Himself, must respect our free will; Our Lady will most fully watch over and intercede for us only if we allow her to do so.
If Mary were able and worthy of serving as Mother to the Son of God Himself, she’s certainly capable of serving as our spiritual mother. Praying the Rosary when we have the chance, saying a Hail Mary whenever we think of it throughout the day, asking for Our Lady’s help in all our problems, praying to her in all our needs, wearing one of her medals or scapulars, having one or more of her images or statues in our homes, and clinging to her hand in our difficulties and fears, will help us face the storms of life with confidence, and allow us to make good use of the coming year. Even if 2017 is a time of worry and upheaval for the world as a whole, it can, through Our Lady’s intercession, be a time of blessing and peace for us—if that is truly our desire and our choice.
REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.